Paul Wright | The JAAA’s World Relays blunder
Jamaican athletes are supertalented. That fact has been proven to be correct time after time. This year, the team to the IAAF World Relays in Japan was selected based on previous history and “present form”. Consequently, although the ‘big’ names were there, expectation of a high medal haul were understandably muted. But, since Jamaicans are fast, at least we would be competitive.
However, the World Relays is not only a measure of speed and talent, it is a measure of technique. The simple task of carrying a baton around the track, within the zones outlined by markers, and explained in some detail to every runner over the two days of the competition, is the hallmark of the event. This moving of the baton, at speed, within a designated area, is not as easy as it sounds and practice among the athletes selected in any event is usually mandatory.
Different strategies are tried and tested and the best combination selected after what is essentially a period of trial and error. So when an international event is scheduled and an arrangement is made for attendance, it is reasonable to assume that for a country like Jamaica, the world’s sprint capital, administrators, technical experts (management), and athletes themselves would liaise to ensure the best possible results.
Not so here in this fair land of ours. The first hint of problems came with the surprise withdrawal of an icon and legend, Yohan Blake, over what appears to be differences of opinion between what he thought was his best chance of performing well at the relays vis-à-vis what the coaches and those in charge of the team to Japan thought.
Then, another icon and legend, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, voiced her “disappointment” at being told that she was to run in the 4x200m relay instead of the 4x100m. The powers that be apparently decided that the best chance of a gold medal and possible world record would come from our two best 200m runners and our two best 400m runners combining to beat the world in the 4x200m! The final ‘hint’ of problems came when the team began complaining of a lack of acclimatisation and practice time ahead of the two-day meet.
The president of the governing body then explained that financial reasons were to blame for the late arrival of the team and lack of acclimatisation and practice time ahead of the IAAF World Relays!
Financial reasons why the number-one sprint team in the world would arrive in Japan for the World Relays, technically at a disadvantage when compared to other less-talented teams. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson, and Yohan Blake, etc are names that guarantee support from sponsors anxious to be associated with any activity on a world stage that would mean exposure for their product.
All that is necessary is what is known as ‘forward thinking’. Forward thinking goes something like this: Jamaica is going to be represented at the World Relays. Where and when will it be held? What might be the prevailing temperature and climatic conditions at the venue? Will it be at sea level or at altitude? Relays are a very technical event, how much time would be needed for the athletes selected to perfect baton changes and to have the best combinations that will result in as flawless a performance as possible? Once these and other relevant questions are answered by persons with the necessary technical know-how and delivered to the governing body, then an assessment of the financial implications are made, and if there is a shortfall, a search for sponsors would begin. How then could there be legitimate complaints from the very ones who are expected to bring glory to the nation?
No local athletic fan expects our athletes to perform à la Beijing at every international competition. The season has just started, and our national treasures are expected to peak much later in the year. But the least we expect is an effort from those charged with administering our international performances with the competence that we expect from the athletes selected to represent us.
High-calibre athletic performance is not only subject to the actions on the field. It is also equally dependent on competent and expert action from coaches and administrators. It is high time that as much as we expect from our sport stars, the same must apply to the ones behind the scenes. The same sanctions and discipline should similarly apply to obvious cases of bungling. Brand Jamaica cannot be subject to administrative bungling and incompetence only to have it dismissed by officials as “oops”.